Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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"People often get into coffee because it's their dream, but your dreams don't often include bala e sheets and suppliers." Colin Harmon, author of What I Know about Running ffee Shops Coffee Shops. "Nobody likes cleaning toilets, but it has to be done," he writes. "I still do it in our offi ce—and sometimes in the café when it's busy—so I expect the same from the staff." While there are actual literal toilets to clean (and clean, and clean again, many times a day—remember that many people judge a business by the condition of its bathroom), the commode can also stand as a fi gurative example of all the down-and-dirty bits that come along with the job of business ownership. If you're not prepared to clean toilets, mop fl oors, refi ll paper-towel rolls, or wipe up spills off tables and countertops, you might want to ask yourself whether you want to own a coffee shop or simply spend your free time in one. This is not to say that the business owner is responsible for every menial task at hand, but staff will notice when the general attitude is, "That's someone else's job." It rubs off. Hiring, Firing, and Other Interpersonal nundrums "Equipment problems and leaky pipes are always going to happen. But those are easy problems to fi x because they have a defi ned solution. The people problems are the tough ones," Mark emphasizes—and there are plenty of people problems. From hiring and fi ring, which is the most basic personnel arithmetic a business owner needs to calculate, to pay rates and raises, clear rewards and disciplinary policies for certain behavior, scheduling, skill-based expectations, and simple matters of personality, the coffee business is the people business as well, and any employer needs to be prepared for the complexity that comes along with that fact. Oksana says that staffi ng can be "one of the thorns in [an owner's] side, because employees are not faithful sometimes—so there's a high turnover, and then there's a lot of training." Colin agrees wholeheartedly: "People underestimate how hard it is to train new staff and how much it takes out of you as you think through every step and explain every action and consequence," he writes in What I Know about Running Coffee Shops. "The cost of a learning curve is a hard one to quantify, but it's one I look at as not being an expense but an investment." "My focus has shifted from recruiting to retention," Mark says. "I have to fi nd ways to keep my employees engaged and excited to come to work. A reliable paycheck is no longer enough to keep people coming back. Employment in this industry is much more transient than, say, investment banking at Goldman. There just aren't many people who knew from high school that they wanted to be career baristas." Like Mark and Colin, Oksana believes that passion and person- ality—"really the love of a great product and serving a customer base"—are singularly important in building a staff of the right people, "and not everybody has that," says Oksana. "You see other places where they spend hundreds of thou- sands a year on the coffee equipment but they don't spend anything on the culture or their baristas' education," Colin says, shaking his head. After all, what good is the espresso machine if no one has been properly taught to use it, or can't be inspired to care because they feel replaceable and invisible to the compa- ny's leadership? "There's no surefi re way to offset the risk associated with losing tacit knowledge in a business, but having an open learning culture is a good way to hedge against it," Colin writes, and he goes on to encourage a café owner to set a tone and create an environment where baristas are learning from one another and sharing their expertise, knowledge, and experience. This not only fosters more of a team mentality and a stick-togetherness that can help increase retention, but it also creates a foundation of skills that can be built upon and improved, rather than starting from scratch over and over. But What about Coffee? By now you're wondering, "OK, but when do we get to nerd out about the coffee?" The answer is, well, all the time—but not in this article! While you will certainly want to invest time, mon- ey, and some serious palate exercises to your coffee education and expertise, it's important to remember to set yourself up for success by dotting all the boring, challenging, and unglamorous Is and crossing all the Ts—T stands for clean the Toilet, after all—so that your coffee has the opportunity to shine. One fi nal word from Mark, who, like any good New Yorker, doesn't mince words: "This is advice I can only give having done it, and I hope I don't burst anyone's bubble, but I would say enjoy the idealism and naïveté during the development and construc- tion process, but lose it once you open. People tend to attach a certain warm and fuzzy feeling with coffee shops—which is a good thing because they tend to be warm, fuzzy, and charming places—but to the owners, you have to realize that this is a busi- ness. You can't pay vendors and employees with 'warm and fuzzy.' As a mentor of mine once said, 'It's not all about making money, but if you're not making money, then it's not real.'" Last but not least: Remember to enjoy the ride, bumps and all. After all, coffee is truly the greatest job on earth. (But maybe we're a little biased.) 79 www.baristamagazine.com

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